Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Another Idea

I just spent a half hour talking to Bill Shepperd on the phone. Just like Amazing Grace, he was lost but now is found. In, of all places, Wayne, where he has been all along except for his military hitch.

After telling each other our life stories, it got me to thinking that we need a place to share those stories. I want to know them, and I think others do to. Not everyone is real happy with the way things turned out 100%. I know I'm not, but I still want to hear anyway, warts and all. Some of us probably turned out to be princes. Others of us probably stayed frogs. But there is a place in this world for frogs and princes, and at our age, who's really going to notice the difference anyway. Besides, it's probably too late to do anything about it. I know I've got nothing to prove any more. I'm there for my family when they need me, my work pays the bills and my interests have swung toward history and classmates. I'll save the long version of my life for another entry sometime.

I would have bored Bill with this story but I was too interested in his, so here goes. Now Carol Angiono Jones thought I was talking about she and Nancy and Pete and Reggie when I told this story to her, but I was telling it to contrast it to the job they have done so well for so long. I'm just sorry I never got to tell Don how much I appreciated all the work he put into the class.

Anyway, here goes. The end of my life story puts me in Evansville, Indiana. My 2nd wife, Linda is Evansville born and bred. We live on the Westside of town. For those of you who don't know Evansville, it is really two towns put together across a creek running between them. The Westside, formerly known as Lamasco, is where she has lived all her life. The Eastside, has always been Evansville. We're all Evansville administratively, but culturally, we're Westsiders. Well THE high school for the Westside is F.J. Reitz High school and my wife graduated from here in 1967, same as us, except with a graduating class of only 360 or so. They had a few pregos and they weren't allowed to graduate - they had to drop out. That's the "or so" part and part of the story.

When we had the house fire (documented in the previous post) she thought she lost her yearbook too. She was easily as distraught as I was when I lost my copy of Embers (it was truly Embers and the house gave off Smoke Signals too). She turned to her classmates to get a copy to scan so she'd have one, at least in pages if not in bound form. Well, she did and started reading through it and started to think about school mates and reunions. We missed her 30th (We were only recently married for that one.) We went to her 40th and it was pretty lackluster - like some satire about reunions in the nursing home or something. Woo Woo. Let's have a party snore snore........ There were only about 40 classmates there, with maybe 80 people in total.  Then we found out that many weren't located, and most weren't even notified that it was happening. The reunion committee just kept track of the people that attended, so as attendance kept going down, they kept track of fewer and fewer people.

It was then that Linda decided to find all her classmates. It took 9 months using every search technique in the book including word of mouth, but she did it. I built the class a website - modeled it after Pete Milano's. Stole his presentation of the class. But we added alphabetical pages with before and after pictures and contact information (if allowed to do so by the graduate) "Would you want to share your email address on the class website". "If we do a class directory, would you want your contact info in it" (There hadn't been one in over 20 years)  The website,  generated so many hits as to be unbelievable. People were calling in suggestions and we added a memorial page with burial locations. We added the digitized yearbook, grade school graudation photos, copies of the student newspaper (Not as good as Smoke Signals, if I don't say so myself). So we had generated a tremendous amount of buzz and conversation. We told people that we were all about inclusion, including the pregos and other people that went to school with them but either moved out of town or to another high school. They were still part of the school community.  Emails were flying left and right. People were reconnecting and everything was good. How would we harness it into action? A reunion? I wanted to call it a Preunion. Definitely not. Many were irritated and angry at the committee. So we decided to have an informal get together, an Antireunion a catered cookout at a local park enclosed shelter house that held about 100 or so people. 12 bucks a head. A self liquidating event just to have one without all the bells and whistles. A tea party reunion, sorta. Well the attendance reached 80 and we started to get worried. It got to 100 and we said well, some people are going to be outside anyway. It got to 120, and we told folks that if you don't get your reservation paid, you'll be like the folks in Green Bay - we'll rent a big screen and you can be outside in a rent-a-tent. It got to 150 and we said, "maybe we need a bigger place". We ended up with 180 paid reservations and a different venue.

The old reunion committee turned over the funds and withdrew from the arena quite voluntarily and unexpectedly. Suddenly my wife and the small group of people working with her became the new reunion committee. We sold printed directories to raise funds at the event. We sold CD's of the directory. I borrowed the student picture on the name tag thing that we did at our 20th. People went wild. Even without booze, they had to chase us out of the place. We made money, showed what could be done and everyone had a renewed sense of community. It was truly a feel good moment. The reunion committee guy that was going to emcee got sick and I ended up having to do it. That was weird. Then again, I've done eulogies for people I've never met. That's another story too. They made me an honorary class member! Dual citizenship as it were.

Needless to say, our 45th in Evansville is going to be bigger and better than ever. We're raffling off a week in a Gulf Shore condo donated by one of the classmates to raise money. We have a series of fundraisers planned going into next May and we've booked a place for nearly 300 people.

Back to Wayne. Completely different situation. Here we have a dedicated committee working hard to keep the website current and get things ready. They've been doing this for years now. Is there anything more that can be done? There always is. The trick is finding people to do it. My chosen task is finding the lost. I want to get people reconnected to one another, to really talk up the 45 and build the numbers. Pete says he can get the facility if we outgrow the club house. I don't want to scare Carol, but wouldn't that be something? There are so many people I want to see again.

But first we start with stories. If anyone wants to share theirs, drop me a line at and I'll set it up as a posting here. I'll forward it to Pete as well so he can add it to the website with your picture. I'm really looking forward to hearing it!

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